With all the products available for preventing stretch marks and eliminating scars, choosing the best product can be confusing. It is important to look into your options and find one that will work and won’t cause side effects. This is what we found on the popular product Bio Oil and how effective it is for stretch marks.

Pregnant woman rubbing cream on to prevent stretch marks

What is Bio-Oil?  

Bio-Oil is a topical oil formulation claiming to improve the skin’s appearance of scars, stretch marks, uneven skin tone, aging skin and dehydrated skin[1]. The Bio-Oil formulation is a combination of plant extracts and vitamins suspended in an oil base This product also claims to be appropriate to use on sensitive skin and is safe during pregnancy[1] .

The Bio-Oil® product information manual also states that every scar is different and that means they heal differently. The final appearance of scars after treatment with Bio-Oil may vary between people

What Causes Stretch Marks?

Stretch marks result from tears in the dermal layer (underneath the outermost layer) of the skin[2].  They are often seen during puberty, pregnancy, bodybuilding, and periods of rapid weight gain[2][3].  Bio-Oil® markets itself to reduce the chance of stretch marks developing by keeping the skin flexible and hydrated and improve the appearance of existing stretch marks.

What Ingredients Are In Bio-Oil?

The key ingredients in the formulation are Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Calendula Oil, Lavender Oil, Rosemary Oil, Chamomile Oil and PurCellin Oil™.   We will try to go through each ingredient separately and summarize them (although a separate article could be written on each ingredient!):

  • Vitamin A in Bio-Oil is thought to help increase skin elasticity, improve skin tone and texture[1]. Vitamin A is used to improve wound healing, reduce wrinkles, and to protect the skin against UV radiation.  Although Vitamin A has antioxidant effects that could potentially be helpful, there is no reliable evidence that applying vitamin A supplements topically can reduce scars[4].

  • Vitamin E in Bio-Oil is used as an antioxidant and is thought to prevent skin damage and premature aging, as well as moisturize the skin[1]. Again, there is no strong evidence stating that vitamin E reduces surgical scarring[5].

  • Calendula in Bio-Oil is used for wound healing due to potential anti-inflammatory effects. However, there is not enough reliable information available about the effectiveness of calendula for wound healing[6].

  • Lavender Oil in Bio-Oil is thought to have skin conditioning properties that provide a calming and soothing benefit, and act as a natural antiseptic[1].  When used topically, it can be used to improve circulation[7]. However, evidence regarding the effectiveness of lavender as a calming property is mixed. Further research is needed before a strong conclusion can be made[7]. Lavender oil may have antibacterial activity (but this hasn’t been studied well in humans) but further study is needed to draw conclusions[7].

  • Rosemary Oil in Bio-Oil is thought to provide skin invigoration and conditioning, soothing properties and mild antiseptic effects[1]. Topically, rosemary can be used for wound healing[8] . Rosemary does seem to have antibacterial, antifungal and antioxidant properties[8].

  • Chamomile in Bio-Oil is used topically for inflammation and as an antiseptic in ointments, creams, and gels to treat skin irritation.  The type of chamomile in Bio-Oil is called Roman chamomile, which is also is also used topically for wounds and burns. However, there is not enough information available about how effective Roman chamomile is on skin[9].

  • PurCellin Oil™ was incorporated into Bio-Oil to reduce the thickness of the formulation, improving its application and spreadability and making Bio-Oil® readily absorbed by the skin. It is also said to make the skin soft and smooth[1].

What Does the Evidence Say – Does Bio Oil Work?

The manufacturer lists 14 studies on their website that support Bio-Oil’s effectiveness for skin care. Although, these trials state positive results there are some shortcomings.  First, the number of participants seem surprisingly low and second, no citation is provided for further investigation into the validity of the results.

After we researched this a little more, we found one individual study supporting the claim that Bio-Oil will improve stretch marks in the abdomen of women[2].  However, the trial had a small sample size of only 20 women, was funded by the product manufacturer, and is conducted in South Africa where Bio-Oil® was founded[2]. The study did not test it on pregnant and breast-feeding women but the product states that women can begin applying Bio-Oil at the beginning of the second trimester, twice daily for a minimum of three months to minimize the appearance of stretch marks.

Another review found that there was no high-quality evidence to support the use of any particular topical preparation to help prevent stretch marks during pregnancy[10]. Some clinical practice guidelines state that some “topical preparations might reduce incidence of stretch marks” but no published results of a particular product have been that significant12. Overall, there is a lack of convincing evidence for the efficacy of Bio-Oil for stretch marks.

What are the Side Effects of Bio Oil?

Overall, there aren’t many reported side effects. Avoid using this product if you have an allergy or experience skin irritation from any ingredients or fragrance from the product. It is not recommended for children under the age of two because they have very sensitive skin and the fragrance in Bio-Oil® could irritate their skin. Bio-Oil® should not be applied to broken skin because it is not sterile and can irritate open wounds[1].

What are the Side Effects of Bio-Oil During Pregnancy?

Bio-Oil® has completed safety assessments with the Regulation of the European Parliament and the Council on Cosmetic Products[1]. Each ingredient was individually looked at and safe for use. Bio-Oil® is safe to use during pregnancy but caution should be used during breastfeeding12. The oil should not be applied to the nipples to make sure the baby is not ingesting the oil.

Bottom Line

Do we recommend Bio-Oil for stretch marks? From a scientific standpoint, there is not enough strong evidence to prove that Bio-Oil is effective in reducing skin imperfections. However, some people have noted success with this product. It is important to keep in mind that the final appearance of a scar or stretch mark can be influenced by factors such as skin type, scar location, type of injury, age and diet; therefore, the  results will vary.  The only real harm associated with trying this product is the cost and energy put in to using a product that may not work!



Kristen MacDonell, Rebecca Peat, Yasir Iqbal, Cassidy Mozak

Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences

University of Alberta

Edited and Reviewed by the Health Aisle Team



References
1. Bio-Oil® Professional. Bio-Oil® Product Guide. Retrieved from http://www.Bio-Oil®professional.co.uk/resources/downloads/Bio-Oil®_Product_information_booklet.pdf
2. Summers, B., & Lategan, M. (2009). The effect of a topically-applied cosmetic oil formulation on striae distensae. South African Family Practice, 51(4), 332-336.
3. Bio-Oil® Professional. Training booklet – Bio-Oil® tutor programme: Stretch Marks facts. Retrieved from http://www.Bio-Oil®professional.co.uk/resources/downloads/Bio-Oil®-Stretch-Mark-Facts-Training-Booklet.pdf
4. Therapeutic Research Faculty. (2012). Vitamin A. Product Monograph, Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database.
5. Therapeutic Research Faculty. (2012). Vitamin E. Product Monograph, Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database.
6. Therapeutic Research Faculty. (2012). Calendula. Product Monograph, Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database.
7. Natural Standard. (2013). Lavender. Bottom Line Monograph, Natural Standard.
8. Therapeutic Research Faculty. (2013). Rosemary. Product Monograph, Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database.
9. Therapeutic Research Faculty. (2012). Roman Chamomile. Product Monograph, Natural  Medicines Comprehensive Database.
10. Brennan, M., Young, G., & Devane, D. (2012). Topical preparations for preventing stretch marks in pregnancy. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (Online), 11.
11. Treatments of discomforts during pregnancy. In DynaMed [database online]. December 2, 2013. Accessed April 12, 2014.
12. Bio-Oil® Professional. Bio-Oil® Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from http://www.Bio-Oil®professional.co.uk/resources/downloads/Bio-Oil®_Frequently_asked_questions.pdf